Last reviewed 4 May 2020

With the Government beginning to indicate that at least some sectors will be encouraged to return to work in the near future, unions and trade organisations have expressed concerns as to how this can be achieved without risk to the workers concerned.

Unite, the country’s main construction union, has questioned how social distancing can be maintained on building sites and the TUC has issued a report, Preparing for the Return to Work Outside the Home: A Trade Union Approach (available at www.tuc.org.uk) which argues that every employer in the UK should be required to carry out a specific COVID-19 risk assessment.

Now the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has entered the debate, urging Public Health England (PHE) to provide clear, unequivocal guidance about the ongoing use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the workplace.

After the Association consulted the organisation’s 18,000 members, representing all sectors of the supply chain, policy director Elizabeth de Jong said that it is clear that a smooth return to working in all sectors of industry will depend on workers being given clear direction on the PPE they need, and where it must be used.

“Public debate and uncertainty about PPE, and in particular facemasks, has caused disquiet and unease about whether working in logistics environments is truly safe,” she pointed out. “There is also concern that this lack of clarity has led to fewer workers making themselves available to work, and some business closing over staff welfare concerns.”

The FTA has warned the Government that the required changes in working practice will need time to bed in before it starts to withdraw financial support, including the option of furloughing from the industry.

“We all want to return to normal, whatever that may now look like, as quickly as possible, but must not undo the good work done while we have faced such unprecedented challenges,” Ms de Jong concluded. “For some businesses which have been hardest hit by the pandemic, support may be needed for a few months yet.”